Thursday 21 June 2012

Hotel New World collapse - 26 years on

Doctor who cared for victims shares experience at launch of exhibition
By Sherri Lee, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2012

(From left) Dr Edward Pang, Mr Bernard Chiang, Mr Ricky Goh,
Ms Joan Hon and Prof Fred Long with newspaper clippings on
the 1986 disaster.
HOTEL New World collapsed 26 years ago, but memories of that day remain fresh for Dr Edward Pang, 73.

He was then a doctor at the former Kandang Kerbau Hospital and was one of the volunteers who cared for the tragedy's victims.

Until today, he still has vivid memories of crawling through a tunnel dug by rescuers to reach the trapped victims. He said: 'The smell of death was everywhere. I couldn't see clearly and had to crawl on my belly through the tunnel.'

He recounted his experience yesterday at the launch of a new exhibition to capture the horror of Singapore's first major civil disaster.

Organised under the National Heritage Board's (NHB) 'Resilience Through Heritage Series', the free exhibition will be on at Ang Mo Kio Public Library from today until July 19.

It features artefacts such as a copy of the Report Of The Inquiry Into The Collapse Of Hotel New World - which examines the causes of the collapse - and uniforms similar to those worn by rescuers from the then Civil Defence Force and Singapore Fire Service.

The Lian Yak Building, more commonly known as Hotel New World, collapsed in 1986, claiming 33 lives. More than 500 personnel took part in a five-day rescue operation that saved 17 people.

Even though the disaster took place decades ago, the lessons learnt from it are still relevant today, said Dr Pang.

Emphasising the need for preparedness, he said: 'We can't prevent disasters, but if we are prepared, we can respond fast to contain the damage.'

Mr Bernard Chiang, 60, former commander of the 1st Singapore Civil Defence Volunteer Company, agreed and stressed the need for unity in times of crisis.

He said: 'During the disaster, the whole of Singapore came together regardless of differences. People need to care more about one another, especially in difficult times.'

Besides the exhibition, the NHB has also planned a series of public talks by volunteers and key personnel involved in the disaster and rescue operations.

These include Dr Pang and Mr Chiang, as well as Mr Ricky Goh, 58, a Red Cross volunteer; Ms Joan Hon, 69, author of Hotel New World Collapse, a book which explores the reasons for the disaster; and Professor Fred Long, 72, who provided psychological care for victims of the disaster.

Hotel New World rescuer recounts efforts to save lives
By Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2017

When he heard about the collapse of Hotel New World on March 15, 1986, Mr Tan Kim Teck, then a reservist in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), reported to the then-SCDF headquarters in Bendemeer Road.

Despite not being mobilised, Mr Tan, then a 25-year-old carpenter, volunteered to help.

Mr Tan, now 55, told The Straits Times on Thursday : "I'm very sure in some big situation, your conscience will tell you that you're needed. My style is to 'just go'."

Mr Tan was a guest at the SCDF NS Gallery which was officially opened yesterday.

The collapse of the Serangoon Road hotel had left 50 people trapped. In the end, 17 survivors were pulled out of the rubble and 33 people died, in what was the biggest civil disaster in local history.

A total of 500 personnel from the SCDF, Singapore Fire Service (SFS), police, Singapore Armed Forces and tunnelling experts helped in the week-long operation.

At the site, Mr Tan, who was then a general rescuer from the 1st Rescue Battalion, busied himself by moving debris away from the collapsed six-storey Lian Yak Building, which housed the hotel.

But Mr Tan, now a director of a heavy machinery rental company in Vietnam, wanted to do more.

Together with a handful of personnel from the SFS, Mr Tan broke open a ventilation outlet and got into the basement carpark.

It was dark and the ceiling had caved in. On one wall, the reinforcement steel bars stood dangerously exposed. Still, the men waded in chest-high waters and climbed over submerged cars, shouting, "Anybody here?"

And then, they heard a woman's voice. Mr Tan said: "Her voice was weak. She told me there were a few others trapped in there.

"I couldn't see her behind the rubble but I wanted to assure her that help was on the way."

They also spoke to another survivor. On their recommendation, heavy machinery work above the carpark was stopped.

Mr Tan and his fire service counterparts led other rescuers, including tunnelling experts, into the carpark. When the survivors were brought out one by one, everyone cheered.

For the next four days, Mr Tan had very little sleep. Two days later, he heard the news that the woman he had spoken to at the basement carpark had died.

"I felt bad," Mr Tan said. "She was so close, yet so far."

Mr Tan later became the only reservist in SCDF history to get a three-step field promotion - from private to sergeant - for his courage and perseverance in search-and-rescue work.

He was also conferred the Public Service Star. But he said: "But in my mind, I did nothing special."

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